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HMP Dovegate works with Restart Dog Project to deliver dog training courses to prisoners

The Restart Dog Project (the first of its kind in the UK) launched in 2019 and has quickly been gaining attention and praise from all over the world for their innovative approach to providing education in a high security setting. Restart Dogs has reached an exciting new phase of its journey and is now moving into their first adult estate at the Serco managed HMP Dovegate in Staffordshire. Restart Dogs, led by dog trainer and behaviourist Rachel Trafford, will teach the Prisoners how to train assistance dogs the skills that are needed to function in a human world.

Prisoners will set the dogs up for success by shaping their behaviour in a proactive and positive manner, training the dogs alternative behaviours and reinforcing the desired behaviours that the dogs perform. The four puppies, which are destined to help the challenges of a person’s disability, providing emotional and practical support in day-to-day tasks, will receive their puppy life skills training from the prisoners at HMP Dovegate. The puppies will receive their basic training for ten months until they are ready to go on to the next phase of their training and help to change the life of somebody diagnosed with a disability as an assistance dog.

An assistance dog is trained to have at least three skills or techniques that mitigate or help the challenges of a person’s disability, providing emotional and practical support in day-to-day tasks including: medication reminders, Deep Pressure Therapy (DPT), item retrieval, picking up dropped items, self-harm interruption, meltdown response, and anxiety response. All dog lovers know that dogs are incredibly special and that the bond between humans and a dog can be incredibly therapeutic and can give humans a sense of purpose and hope for the future.

A carefully selected group of prisoners at HMP Dovegate who have demonstrated a willingness to make changes to their own behaviour are putting their learnt skills to the test by training the puppies through positive reinforcement techniques, encouraging them to choose positive, appropriate behaviours in a calm and positive environment.

With the safety and welfare of the dogs being of paramount importance through the project, the prisoners have the opportunity to “Restart” their lives.  Through the unique bond between humans and man’s best friend they will not only create a positive and hopeful future for themselves, but will put something back into society by being a significant part of the development of a support dog, that  will go on to change a person with a disability’s life for the better.